Horses clip clop along cobblestone streets pulling carriages filled with tourists. At the market, Gullah women mind tables filled with exquisitely woven sweetgrass baskets - a craft that dates back to the days of slavery. Lovely antebellum homes with spacious verandas line shady avenues. You'll find shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, crab cake po-boy's, barbecue and tomato pie on the menu in local eateries: This is Charleston, South Carolina - the Low Country. It's a town so charming you may never want to leave - and neither did many of its dearly departed.
Charleston is believed to be one of the most haunted cities in the South. It's no wonder considering much of it is built on graves. Ghost reports are commonplace here. In fact, the Charleston police have received so many calls about a distressed woman dressed in black trapped inside the popular eatery, Poogan's Porch, that authorities disregard new reports. The woman is believed to be the ghost of Zoe St. Armand, who owned the house in the early 1900s and went mad after the death of her sister. Even the restaurant's namesake, a Wheaten terrier, Poogan, who died in 1979, is said to still be running through the dining room brushing the legs of children as they dine with their parents.
Don't think for a minute the hotels in town are immune from spirit sightings. Book a room at The Mills House hotel on Market Street and you may run into Confederate soldiers running up and down the halls looking for water to put out the flames of the fire of 1861 that damaged the hotel while it was being used as a Confederate base during the Civil War. Robert E. Lee himself has been rumored to make an appearance now and then.
While you are strolling the streets of Charleston, duck into Philadelphia Alley and you may very well encounter a spirit or two. This secluded passageway just off Market Street is commonly known as "Dueler's Alley" and with good reason. In the early 1800's in the American South, dueling was the way disputes were settled. As you might imagine, many of those duels led to the death of the participants. Philadelphia Alley was the sight of many of untimely deaths leaving a host of spirits roaming the area a bit unsatisfied with life's ending.
There are plenty of companies offering ghost tours that showcase Charleston’s darker side. I booked the cemetery and dungeon experience with Bulldog Tours. The guide led us through historic streets, cemeteries, back alleyways and churches as we took in all the ghostly details. There were chilling stories of ghost sightings, haunted houses, voodoo and Low Country superstitions. The tour concluded with a somewhat creepy visit to the Provost Dungeon. Located in the Old Exchange Building, Provost Dungeon housed hundreds of prisoners during the Revolutionary War. Jailed for either treason or sedition, many of the prisoners spent their final days there – and never really left.
If you really want to feel your skin crawl, join the behind the scenes tour of The Old City Jail which housed some of Charleston’s most infamous criminals, 19th century pirates and Civil War prisoners are chief among them. The Old City Jail was in operation from 1802 until 1939 and most of the building’s original structures remain intact including the cells and warden’s quarters. The Haunted Jail Tour takes you through the cells, hallways and into the places where Charleston’s worst criminals lived and died. The faint of heart or those who easily cry should just skip this tour and opt for the haunted pub crawl - at least you will have spirits to help you ward off the other spirits.
Are you brave enough to tackle a ghost tour?
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